Being picked as the Opening Night Gala Film of the Toronto International Film Festival is more of a curse than it is an honor. An opening night selection is supposed to launch the festival’s week of stellar films from around the world many of which will end up on ballot sheets when the awards season begins three months hence. But past selections have been less than exemplary. Take last year’s The Judge for example which had critics teeter-tottering on its valued entertainment. Other opening night films such as Fifth Estate, Creation and We of Never Never were all festival, and ultimately box-office, disappointments.
But that doesn’t stop studio honcho’s from wanting the opening slot at the fest and this year’s entry brings a load of star power to the proceedings. The Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and a laundry list of B-Listers to the big screen in a remake of the 1960 John Sturgess film that stared Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. This new entry is directed by Antoine Fuqua who reteams with Washington for the third time following Training Day and The Equalizer.
The synopsis for The Magnificent Seven (2016) is a cut and paste from its 1960’s sister; “Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.” But the basic plot is the only thing that can truly be compared to the original. The names of the characters have changed and the role of the townswoman lead (played by Haley Bennett) is expanded to where the character gets just as much screen time as some of the seven leads.
Peter Sarsgaard plays bad guy Bartholomew Bogue and is effective but just not original. And herein lies the problem with The Magnificent Seven 2016 edition. The movie just doesn’t offer anything other than slightly above average entertainment. We’ve seen this plot and these character types in countless films – better films – over the past 50 years. They ride, they shoot, they get shot, they bond, they seem to be up against a lost cause when all of a sudden the tide turns in the favor of the good guys and roll credits.
But here’s the thing – the movie is still good. Really good, actually. The main actors, particularly Pratt and Washington, are engaging. They gel so well together that you enjoy just watching them on screen and I am sure if it was 133-minutes of the seven men sitting in outhouses reading newspapers while talking to each other there would still be meat on the bone enough to recommend the film.
You can always count on Denzel. Always. But rarely has he been surrounded by equally good talent of this ration. Denzel is more than happy to share the screen with his co-stars and there was more chemistry between the group than in a high school science classroom.
We can’t ignore the Fuqua factor either. Antoine Fuqua has a knack for providing great action sequences that are easy to follow. The action in The Magnificent Seven is practical. If there was any CGI used in the film, I sure couldn’t tell where. Fuqua gets the best out of his cast and ensures that The Magnificent Seven is not just a call sheet of actors with little to do a la Ocean’s 11.
The end result is one of the better action films of what has been an exhausting and underwhelming summer. The Magnificent Seven won’t blow anyone away. And it really doesn’t offer anything ‘new’ to the genres in which it dips its toe. But it is highly enjoyable. And after sitting through tripe such as Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse and Now You See Me 2, it’s good to see an ensemble cast at least earn the dollars forked over at the box office ticket counter.